O’Neill hits right note for London

IN a west London pub on Saturday night, packed to the rafters with boisterous Gaels, London attacker Eoin O’Neill was beckoned onto the stage for a song.

The Galway native chose a number from his fellow county men, The Saw Doctors, and, with the help of his teammates, he brought the house down with a rendition of To Win Just Once.

It was a fitting end to a historic day for those involved with London GAA. There hasn’t been much to cheer about over the last 34 years, the odd near miss a rarity amongst the countless heavy beatings. But when Fermanagh were pulled out of the hat in the qualifiers, the hosts sensed the opportunity to rewrite the history books — and how they did.

The Exiles’ six-point victory at Ruislip wasn’t a true reflection on the game. Such was the home side’s dominance, the winning margin could have been double that. From the throw-in they pressed and harassed their lethargic opponents, building a substantial lead they wouldn’t let slip. Unlike their Connacht championship meeting with Mayo, there wouldn’t be any nail-biting moments in the closing stages. The game had already been put to bed.

London manager Paul Coggins didn’t downplay the significance of the day. He revealed: “There are feelings of great elation and happiness.

“We worked very hard to achieve something and we achieved it. We’ve a great bunch of players and they put everything in there today, absolutely everything.

“Fermanagh came here to win the game and we never gave them a second. The performance was immense, and everything the coaches and I have spoken about, we put it together today and it’s great. We are going to enjoy it.”

Having achieved great success on the London club scene with Tir Chonaill Gaels, Coggins is now working his magic at inter-county level. He learnt the lessons from the heartbreaking loss to Mayo. By switching Mark Gottsche to midfield, the Roscommon native was able to deploy the colossal Paul Geraghty on the edge of the square.

It proved an inspired move. With the wind at their backs in the opening half London went direct, pulling their half-forwards into midfield and firing first-time ball to the full-forward line. Geraghty proved just as capable as a target man as he is around centre field, breaking ball down for O’Neill, Kevin O’Leary and Pádraig McGoldrick.

That quartet all pointed in a first half where London lorded it over the Ernesiders. Gottsche and Derek Hagan bossed midfield, with Tony Gaughan and Ciaran McCallion hoovering up the breaking ball, while former Dr Crokes man Michael Moloney and Barry Comer were impenetrable in defence.

The hosts fired over four points in the opening 12 minutes, but seven wides were a cause for concern. Given the strength of the wind, it was vital they built a substantial lead before the change of ends.

After a 12-minute scoreless period where London had twice hit the post and Fermanagh had a decent penalty appeal waved away, Geraghty played a one-two with McCallion, bounced off the challenge of Barry Owens and converted to put his side five points to the good.

Despite Fermanagh coming a distant second in midfield, their goalkeeper James McGrath continued to aim his kick-outs down the middle. When he tried a short one, Gottsche easily intercepted and pointed.

Three minutes from the break, Tomás Corrigan grabbed Fermanagh’s first score of the day to ironic cheers but London responded with three points to lead 0-9 to 0-1 at the break.

Geraghty was back around midfield for the second half, with O’Leary patrolling in front of the full-back line, but they were unable to prevent a positive start from the visitors, who kicked three quick-fire points.

John O’Flanagan, who grabbed two of that early trio, looked the only forward capable of dragging Fermanagh back into the game, and he did his best with three further points — Daniel Kille knocking over a free in between — to bring them back to within four points.

However, London remained calm and like the Mayo game, converted the opportunities that came their way. McGoldrick, a member of Sligo’s All-Ireland JFC-winning side of 2010, finished off a fantastic flowing move midway through the half, and in the final eight minutes they made the game safe with three unanswered points.

The long wait for a championship win was about to come to an end. Even the Fermanagh fans applauded London amid jubilant scenes at the final whistle.

Scorers for London: E O’Neill 0-4 (2f); K O’Leary, P McGoldrick, C McCallion 0-2 each; P Geraghty, M Gottsche, T Gaughan, K Phair, C O’Sullivan 0-1 each.

Scorers for Fermanagh: J O’Flanagan 0-5 (2f); D Kille 0-2 (1f); T Corrigan, B Óg Maguire 0-1 each.

Subs for London: C O’Sullivan for Hagan (47); K Phair for McGoldrick (59); J Collins for McCallion (54); S Kelly for O’Neill (68).

Subs for Fermanagh: H Brady for O’Callaghan (31); D McCusker for Cassidy (36); C O’Brien for Cosgrove (44); P Ward for Corrigan (46).

Referee: Derek Fahy (Longford).

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